CEDAR RAPIDS — When you’re a kid from Canada, the pressure to stay in your country and play major junior hockey must be enormous.
But Justin Hryckowian ignored that pressure. He determined early that his path would include college, which meant a stop over at prep school and the United States Hockey League first.
“For me, I played for the Lac St-Louis Midget program in Montreal, and we’ve had a lot of guys go onto to college,” the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders first-year center said. “Guys like Mike Matheson (of the Florida Panthers) and Alex Killorn (of the Tampa Bay Lightning). From a young age, those were guys I looked up to. Our coaching staff always promoted it that way. For me, it was a no-brainer. From a young age, I said that’s what I wanted to do. Just more practices, less games, more development.”
Hryckowian has made an immediate impact with the Riders, who beat Omaha 2-1 Friday night and play Saturday night at Omaha. He had two goals and five assists in his first five USHL games, posting a league-leading plus-minus rating of plus-10.
The Northeastern University commit has done a lot of damage with his linemates Tyler Rollwagen (on the left side) and Robby Newton (on the right).
“I’m not too sure what that means,” Hryckowian said of his gaudy plus-minus rating. “I think my linemates have done pretty well, my teammates have been good. We seem to be generating when we’re out there. But it’s early, and I’ve just got to stay consistent. That’s what the best players do, stay consistent. I’m not a big stats guy, don’t really look at the stats. Just try and play and do my best out there. Like Coach says, just play hard every shift because every shift counts. That’s what I try and do.”
That kind of attitude endears you to RoughRiders head coach Mark Carlson.
“First of all, he had a great summer,” Carlson said. “Usually when guys have great summers training wise, they set themselves up for a good year. That was the first thing that I noticed with him. A lot of guys still don’t understand that. The season that you have is set up in the summer. He understood that and worked on his physical fitness, his body, his skating, his shot. Everything under the sun. Just from seeing him in June, then (the start of practice), it’s clear as night and day. Crystal, crystal clear.”
But it’s more than just that, the coach said.
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“The second thing with him is his compete level,” Carlson said. “He competes his tail off, he’s gritty, he’s tough physically and mentally. The third thing is he just has real good abilities. The first two things have allowed him to have a decent start and put him into position, I think, to be one heck of a hockey player.”
Hryckowian speaks fluent French, though he isn’t French-Canadian. Carlson bristled when it was pointed out to him that his 18-year-old center from Il Bizarde, Quebec, chose the route he did over playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, saying the USHL is a much better league.
Hryckowian, obviously, has zero regrets.
“It’s been great,” he said. “It has been a pretty big change of scenery for me, coming from Montreal. And I also went to (Salisbury) prep school (in Connecticut) last year. So it’s been an adjustment for me, coming to the United States and all that. But it has been great. The coaching staff here is unreal. My billet family, all that. The returning players have been so welcoming and set a culture right away.”
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